Deep Dive on Needs and Characteristics of Adolescents, Sensitive Periods, Human Tendencies, Development in Context of Place.

Executive Summary


Needs and Characteristics of Adolescents, Sensitive Periods, Human Tendencies, Development as Universal to Urban and Rural Farms

by David Kahn

The aforementioned themes were blended with implementation discussions about a new Urban Farm Project at Japhet Creek, flatlands, fields, waterways,  downtown, Houston Texas. There is one topical sentence below that is a universal question in largest type. All the rest are follow up questions to extend the topical sentence .


Topical Question: How is the optimal  prepared Environment (the FARM) impacted by and Urban location and what are reasons to do An Authentic Farm in the city?

St. Catherine’s Montessori, Houston, Texas

How an Urban Project evolved from Rural Erdkinder

Case Study Proposal by Kathy Hijazi


St. Catherine’s Montessori, founded in 1966, started an adolescent community with 7th and 8th year students in 1996 and added the first 9th year class in 2002. This fall of 2017, we have our first class in the high school with four 10th year students.

For the first 19 years of our program we traveled to a land institute one hour away from our urban campus for our students to experience residential life and work on the land for brief stints ranging from 5–12 days. These trips gave the guides opportunities to observe the adolescent in a community of his own and the adolescents made it clear that a residential experience is key in the prepared environment. The students enjoyed the work on the organic farm and surrounding land and thrived in the home environment they created in the residence. Students planned and prepared each meal, enjoyed free time playing in the woods, and spent evenings working with friends on homework and playing board games, as well as entertaining us with music they created.

In our assessment, these experiences were valuable but lacked two key components. The first was that the students had no true sense of ownership of their work at the institute. While they were valorized by projects they contributed to while at the institute, other school groups visited at different times and worked on the same projects. This method might appear to be collaborative, but the student groups were not connected in any way other than sequential work on a project, so they didn’t benefit from the “shared” experience. Second, given the limited number of days, students did not need to fully commit to community life, knowing that eventually they would return home, leaving peer conflicts behind. Meanwhile, students tended an organic garden, chickens and bees, and ran a weekly market on our urban campus. These too were valuable experiences, but we realized that students did not take full ownership of this work, because they left school at the end of the day, or week or year and moved on to different roles in their lives away from school.


 Prepared Environment :What is the benefit of having a farm of your own in the city?


We spent several years looking for the ideal farm to call our own. We searched a 100-mile radius from Houston and while there were many potential farms, none of them fully addressed the needs of our adolescents, their families, and our school. We also realized that living in the fourth largest city in the United States provided opportunities for our adolescents that they wouldn’t have living far away from our metropolis. Ultimately, our search ended at Japhet Creek. Located five minutes from downtown Houston and having access to Buffalo Bayou to the south, Japhet Creek is uniquely suited to meet the needs of the younger and older adolescent. The work on this property represents an intersection of both the adolescent community and high school students. While the younger adolescents are developing the garden, orchard, livestock enclosures and residential housing on the property, the older adolescents have begun environmental testing of the soil in collaboration with the City of Houston and the EPA. The students completed Phase 1 in the spring of 2017 and are moving forward with Phase 2 soil sampling. The property is situated in a heavily industrialized part of town with steel recycling, converging railways and industrial lots; this necessitates the study of the environmental safety of the soil and water on our property. Relationships with city planners and professionals have already begun and we recognize the real work this brings to the older adolescent.


 Prepared Environment: How does Japhet Creek Embody Adolescent Farm Characteristics?

Our property is nestled just below the towering skyline and there is ample space and quiet for reflection near the creek. From the banks of the creek, you cannot detect how close you are to the city. Buffalo Bayou was a key waterway in the founding of Houston and continues to figure prominently in twenty-first century Houston. In the last three decades many organizations have pulled together to revitalize and transform Buffalo Bayou into a beautiful public greenspace and arts destination. Much of the work has been done on the west side of downtown and now this work is expanding eastward, and with this expansion the near Eastside is experiencing the beginnings of gentrification. Adolescents can see the benefits and negative impacts that growth can bring, arousing both optimism about the future and an awareness of the social responsibility they have to the economically disadvantaged population of long time residents who currently live in a food and retail desert and may soon be displaced because of rising property values and concurrent tax burdens.

Japhet Creek, one of the last remaining spring-fed creeks in Houston, flows directly into Buffalo Bayou, which meanders to the Turning Basin and Ship Channel, home to the Port of Houston. This affords the adolescent a unique grounding in a sense of place. From the early cotton, sugar and rice farming to the global trading hub and petrochemical industry of today, our adolescents investigate Houston’s origins from its humble beginnings to the grandeur of our twenty-firstst century city, which reaches to the exploration of space.


Development: How do urban oral historians who reside in surrounding  urban neighborhoods help adolescent development?

We are inspired as we see the adolescents building their own community on this property and are certain that we are providing them with the most authentically prepared environment possible as the authentic oral historians Jim Ohmart and Eileen Hatcher, former property owners, aroused the history behind the neighborhood. Lastly a permaculture specialist brought out the need for land rehabilitation and water and soil intervention and conservation.



Urban programs innovated ideas that, when placed in a rural setting, were revisited and survived well: elements of humanities, emphasis on the seminar, the cabaret/coffee shop, the whole class council, mathematics, experience-based creative expression, key experiences, the adolescent three-period lesson, etc. In an evolutionary sense, the urban programs have had more time for curriculum focus simply because they do not have farms to tend. That freedom from practical chores makes the urban program a critical testing ground for new ideas that emerge from the land-based programs in a boarding school context and from revisiting Montessori’s ideas.

But the curriculum work must rally around common principles such as a list of agreed-upon essentials suggested above. What results would come from developing common principles from the start that are derived from Montessori writings?

1.      Urban and land-based programs would communicate without judgment.

2.      The land-based programs would provide a different prepared environment and community reflection that would add to the urban innovations. Conversely, urban settings could test their ideas in farm settings.

3.      The overarching Montessori theme of the relationship between nature and supra-nature (the human-built world) has rural and urban experiments that correspond.

4.      Urban programs and rural programs would provide critical mass for the “experiment for the experiment,” together creating a more significant sample for study and distillation of program design.

With the advocacy of the Erdkinder, the adolescent work slowly gravitates to a unique context for the third plane of education. In order to see the whole of the third plane of education, the boarding and land-based program model needed to be in place and accessible to evolving urban programs. Erdkinder projects make the principles listed above come alive; Montessori adolescent theory is embodied in the work of the adolescent, which the Erdkinder Appendices (in From Childhood to Adolescence) have so vividly illuminated. With a handful of land-based programs in place, working toward the materialization of Montessori ideals, “the experiment for the experiment” will find a healthy partnership between rural and urban, which will, in the final analysis, bring the fifteen-to-eighteen design into clearer view.


The Adolescent Colloquium: Summary of the Proceedings. Comp. & ed. Renee Pendleton. Cleveland, OH: Montessori Teacher Education Collaborative, 1997.

Erdkinder Atlanta. “Erdkinder: The Experiment for the Experiment.” Interview with A.M. Joosten and Margaret E. Stephenson. The NAMTA Quarterly 3.3 (1978, Spring): 17-30. Reprinted in The NAMTA Journal 26.3 (2001, Summer): 209-231.

Gang, Phil. “Report from Erdkinder Atlanta.” The NAMTA Quarterly 4.1-2 (1979, Fall/Winter): 62-67.

Grazzini, Camillo, & Baiba Krumins G. “A Montessori Community for Adolescents.” Grace and Courtesy: A Human Responsibility. [Rochester, NY]: AMI/USA, 1999. 9-18. Reprinted in The NAMTA Journal 29:1 (2004, Winter): 173-203.

Jordan, H.J. “Montessori High School.” Trans. John Carson. AMI Communications (1971, #3): 14-20. Reprinted in The NAMTA Journal 26.3 (2001, Summer): 259-269.

Kahn, David. Designing for the Needs of Adolescents: An Interview with John McNamara.” The NAMTA Journal 18.3 (1993, Summer): 33-42. Reprinted in The NAMTA Journal 26.3 (2001, Summer): 103-112.

Montessori, Maria. From Childhood to Adolescence. 1948. Trans. The Montessori Educational Resource Center. New York: Schocken, 1973.

Why Does Louise Chawla, researcher and Professor at University of Colorado suggest as beneficial to an Urban Environment a Social Environment as well as a Natural World environment for adolescent Development?


The variety of land uses in the city combined with a social mosaic, in which the well-to-do lived in imposing Italianate and Victorian homes on the main avenue, the working class in shotgun homes on secondary streets, African-American families in blocks of extended kin scattered around the community, poor whites and African-Americans in the alleys, and the poorest families in a shanty town by the wharves.

In this integration of diverse land uses and social groups, the city was characteristic of other old “walking industrial” communities built when interdependent classes and services had to be located in proximity. In its racial integration, it was also characteristic of other old Southern cities in the United States, where geographic segregation remained low into the twentieth century.

What were the consequences for children? For one, nature and commerce coexisted, and children penetrated both settings: commons and quarries, overgrown river banks and canal locks, tree lined avenues and rail yard, orchard and corner grocery, parks and local dump. (Chawla “Revisioning Childhood, Nature, and the City”)

A closer look reveals that the urban counterpart may have the environmental richness of the city. Japhet Creek in downtown Houston is a place where adolescents penetrate both “commercial, educational and nature settings” as best conditions for learning history, sociology, farming (on vacant lots abandoned due to foreclosure and demolition), mathematics, language, wood shop, urban geography and neighborhood dynamics. Observing the St. Catherine adolescents in this urban environment was compelling.

The experienced Montessori adolescent farm managers who observed this urban activity found urban living engaging and courageous. For example, commercial ventures were recycling rags and steel from the Bayou or warehouses, removing junk from the creek, testing the water table, checking the minerals in the soil, establishing garden beds, and more. The visitors from Montessori farm communities stood in awe and respect of St. Catherine’s widespread outreach and saluted the joy and optimism the youth expressed about the heavy work ahead. Work was their joy. Their home base was a nineteenth century house with a fence that they were rebuilding and painting, still preserving its original characteristics as a modest home.

The city qualities celebrate a part of the human condition and the Buffalo Bayou mystique: the work of removing invasive species, meeting the homeless, learning the expansive ethnic neighborhoods and the sounds and sights of the city at work, living out of doors, bonfires, dancing in the parks and streets, andopen markets. Hopes, and dreams chase away the potential dangers and put the adolescent in charge of his or her terrain without the usual urban phobia.

Essential Principles for Urban and Rural  Adolescent Prepared Environment

Psychological Characteristics and Needs of Adolescents

The psychological characteristics and human tendencies are the basis for designing the prepared environment


Real and meaningful intellectual and physical work

Economy—Production and Exchange

Relating to selling what one produces in exchange for money

Experiencing Nature and Supranature—Science Studies

Looking at the connection between the natural and human-built world

Living Community and Community Extensions

The cohesion and cooperation of the group through physical

and intellectual work enhanced by living together, sharing practical life, and experiencing personal needs in relation to the whole community

History of Humanity in Relation to Community and Life’s Purpose

Full view of history as it is relevant to the adolescent community, leading to the “vocation of man.”

Self-Expression and the Artistic Occupations


Pedagogy of Place—Beyond the Classroom

Utilization of place to build a sense of belonging and responsibility

Emphasis on Character

Valorization through Noble Characteristics

Roles Beyond Childhood/Reality Base

Work is meaningful, real, and necessary to the environment

Easy Access to a Broad Range of Activities

Activities offered to challenge many different kinds of skills and aptitudes

Key Ongoing Experiences/Seasonal

Organizing experiences and materials that meet the needs of development

outside of the classroom.




Deep Dive Conversation at St. Catherine’s Montessori

January, 2018

Facilitated by David Kahn


Andrew Gaertner - Lake Country (commute farm)

Jesse Gevirtz - Austin Montessori, Director of Adolescent program (urban campus)

Eileen Hatcher - Pioneer generation Japhet Creek

Alexander Heil - Head of Middle School, St. Helena’s Farm Campus, Northern CA (Farm Campus)

Kathy Hijazi - St. Catherine’s founding faculty for Farm

David Kahn - Adolescent rural and urban farm

Amy Lindsey - St. Catherine’s scribe

Jacquie Maughan - NAMTA President, rural farm

Jim Ohmart - Early pioneer historian of Japhet Creek

Patricia Pantano - Operating farm

Catherine Ruff - St. Catherine’s faculty

Dusty Simpson - St. Catherine’s faculty

Susan Tracy - Head of St. Catherine’s

Brian SenseDavid Kahn